Book Review: The First Days: As the World Dies, Rhiannon Frater (2011)

January 8th, 2014 12:02 pm by Kelly Garbato

Don’t Mess With — BRAAAAAAAAINS!!!

three out of five stars

The Zombocalypse has arrived, and survival is as much a matter of dumb luck as it is skill and cunning – a fact quickly established in the first few pages of The First Days. Texas prosecutor Katie is on her way to work when the traffic procession in which she’s stuck is swarmed by a group of the undead. Katie barely manages to escape with her life, thanks to an older gent in a pickup who sacrifices his meat suit for hers. Katie races home, only to find her beloved wife Lydia eviscerating the mailman. She takes off in confused horror, and serendipitously crosses paths with Jenni, a long-suffering housewife whose abusive husband Lloyd has just made a meal of their children. In a very Thelma & Louise moment, the two women embark on a road trip, traversing the rural Texas countryside in search of Jenni’s surviving stepson, Jason, and a safe place to call home.

The First Days: As the World Dies is a solid enough zombie story that, for whatever reason, stopped just short of sucking me in. The story – a kind of cross between The Walking Dead, The Zombie Survival Guide, and every Romero movie ever made – primarily focuses on the tenuous task of rebuilding while swarms of zombies continue to beat down your door. The logistical planning – of which there’s more than a little – didn’t interest me so much, but I loved the many pop culture references. Frater’s obviously a huge fan of the genre. Originally self-published, the Tor reprint maintains some of that indie feel (and not in a bad way). Puzzling, though, are the many punctuation errors that managed to make it into the new version: missing periods, spaces both before and after periods, etc.

The book’s real strength is in its diversity of characters. Katie is a bisexual woman who, at different times and for different reasons, leaves people to their assumptions that she’s either heterosexual or a lesbian. Frater explores the hateful attitudes, harassment, and even violence directed at gay women, as well as the discrimination leveled at bi persons from both the straight and gay communities. Through Jenni, Frater also shines a light at the dynamics of interpersonal violence. Katie and Jenni form a swift and strong bond that, while far from flawless, offers a positive example of female relationships. The cast is ethnically diverse as well: Nerit is a former female Israeli sniper; Juan and Belinda are Mexican-American; and, if I’m not mistaken, the city manager Max is African-American. (I’m starting to wish I’d bought the ebook – a Kindle search function would come in mighty handy right now.) Frater isn’t afraid to place “a heroine in the hero’s role” (in Jenni’s words) – or multiple heroines, as the case may be.

I cringed when she introduced Jake the dog – but (spoiler alert!) the dog doesn’t get it! Or at least not in this first volume of the trilogy. I can’t exactly vouch for Fighting to Survive or Siege.

I’m on the fence about the rest of the series: The First Days took a rather dark and jarring turn in the final few pages that grabbed my interest. The rest of the book was a quick and entertaining read, but probably not something I’ll revisit in the future.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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